Sometimes Patience Isn’t a Virtue


The week of June 22 was a good week for liberals, and between the hours of 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. a very good week for MSNBC. Granted Fox still had higher ratings, but Rachel Maddow’s viewers are still awake at that hour. The tragedy at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., had forced the nation to look inwards and reconsider the terrible roots of the bloodiest war ever fought on American soil. Whatever rationalizations may have come afterwards, the war was fought over the right of one man to own another and the brutality and oppression that came with it.

The United States, in its relatively short history, has many things to be ashamed of, including the Trail of Tears and the forced relocation of the Cherokee nation, and the internment of loyal Americans of Japanese descent during World War II.

Evil can’t be measured by the traditional greatest effect on the greatest number methods of Bentham and the Utilitarian philosophers. The Jewish Talmud says it best: “Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.” And yet, if comparisons mattered, slavery was the largest and longest-lasting stain on American idealism. Taking down some flags is at best a symbol of a start, but it is a start.

This was also the week the Supreme Court again saved the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare) from a group of right wing-copy editors run amok. The issue, the phrase “… exchanges established by the States” in the context of the entire law, seems like a typo, a slip of the computer mouse doing a cut and paste – but taken out of context it threatened to destroy a law that made it possible for millions of people to get quality health care. The Republicans are still trying to roll back Obamacare, and have kept other millions of poor people from being covered by the expansion of Medicaid, but this too is a start.

Finally, the Court ruled that same sex marriage was a right – effectively endorsing the principle of equality for all people. Both the removal of Confederate artifacts and the acceptance of gay marriage will be difficult to fully assimilate. The flag, and other symbols of the Confederacy should be confined to a museum, or perhaps a group of museums so that people all over the country can learn parts of our history that we might prefer to forget.

Gay marriage may be even more difficult, with all the Republican candidates voicing vehement opposition to the decision. While Hillary Clinton, the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination for President, said “Today was not about discovering new rights — it was about getting closer to the ideals that have defined our nation from the very beginning.” In contrast, Mike Huckabee said the “only outcome worse than this flawed, failed decision would be for the President and Congress, two co-equal branches of government, to surrender in the face of this out-of-control act of unconstitutional, judicial tyranny.” But isn’t it the job of the Supreme Court to say what’s Constitutional? Bobby Jindal said the decision “will pave the way for an all-out assault against the religious freedom rights of Christians who disagree with this decision.” The Republicans claimed that granting same-sex couples the right to marry threatened religious freedom without quite explaining how.

But there’s an interesting comparison to be made here, because in his dissenting opinion on same sex marriage, Chief Justice Roberts wrote: “… however heartened the proponents of same-sex marriage might be on this day, it is worth acknowledging what they have lost, and lost forever: the opportunity to win the true acceptance that comes from persuading their fellow citizens of the justice of their cause. And they lose this just when the winds of change were freshening at their backs.”

Justice Roberts’ words echo those of General Robert E. Lee in a letter he wrote in 1856: “… Their (the slaves) emancipation will sooner result from the mild and melting influences of Christianity than from the storm and tempest of fiery controversy. This influence, though slow, is sure. The doctrines and miracles of our Saviour have required nearly two thousand years to convert but a small portion of the human race, and even among Christian nations what gross errors still exist! While we see the course of the final abolition of human slavery is still onward, and give it the aid of our prayers, let us leave the progress as well as the results in the hands of Him who, chooses to work by slow influences ...”

There’s a span of 159 years between what General Lee wrote and Justice Robert’s opinion, but not a hairbreadth between them. Sometimes patience isn’t a virtue after all.

Sam Uretsky is a writer and pharmacist living on Long Island, N.Y. Email

From The Progressive Populist, August 1, 2015

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